Arthur Leonard Schawlow was born in Mt. Vernon, New York in 1921, and his family moved to Toronto, Canada three years later. He studied mathematics and physics at the University of Toronto, and graduated in 1941. During the war, while teaching physics to military personnel at the university, he earned his master's degree. In 1949, Schawlow received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Toronto. While doing postdoctoral research at Columbia University he met Charles Townes, and their long collaboration on microwave spectroscopy began.
In 1951, Schawlow got a job as a physicist at Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he began studying superconductivity, but he continued to work with Townes, writing a book together about microwave spectroscopy. Townes had invented the maser, a device that creates coherent beams of microwaves. The two were trying to extend the basic principle of the maser to optical wavelengths, and Schawlow came up with the idea of using a long chamber with a mirror at each end. The two published their design in 1957, which set off an intense scientific competition to produce the first actual laser, which was built in 1960.
In 1961, Schawlow joined the physics department at Stanford University, where he continued his research in the fields of optical and microwave spectroscopy, superconductivity, lasers, and laser spectroscopy. In 1981, he received a Nobel Prize for Physics for "his contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy."
Information as of 1962